From the home office in Chapel Hill, the top 15 pork barrel higher education projects

At some point today, legislators will give final approval to the budget compromise that was hatched out before the Fourth of July weekend. It marks the end of the budget process that began in May and extended just days past the start of the 2007 fiscal year.

Like any governmental budget, this one has enough pork to make a pig farmer smile. This year’s higher education budget contains many generous helpings.

In honor of the passage of the state budget, the Pope Center unveils its list of the top 15 pork barrel projects. We determined projects for the list based on two questions. Is the project really needed? Should it be privately funded? While some of the projects in the list seem worthwhile, it would be better if they were funded through voluntary contributions.

So without further adoo and in true David Letterman style, from the home office on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, here is this year’s “Top 15 Higher Education Pork Barrel Projects.”

Does UNC need to expand?

When I first saw the email heading – “Could NC Wesleyan become a UNC school?” – I thought it was going to be a joke.

But as I read through the news item, I found out that several members of the General Assembly are quite serious about wanting to have North Carolina Wesleyan College be taken over by the University of North Carolina system. The idea is laughable, but they’re serious.

A provision was included in the Senate budget bill to study (at a cost to the taxpayers of $50,000) the feasibility of bringing this liberal arts college that is affiliated with the United Methodist Church into the big UNC congregation. Why on earth would we want to start ladling public money into a school that has managed quite well for half a century on funds raised from willing donors and students?

Easley releases budget document

RALEIGH – The University of North Carolina and the North Carolina Community College System are slated to receive budget increases of more than 10 percent in a budget proposal released Tuesday by Gov. Mike Easley.

Easley’s budget announcement, which was announced during a press conference, came on the same day legislators returned to Raleigh for the start of the short session. More information about the budget is expected to be released Monday during a Joint Appropriations Committee meeting that will include a budget briefing.

In all, Easley is recommending a state budget of $18.85 billion, up from $17.2 billion for the current fiscal year. The budget request increases spending thanks in part to a $2 billion surplus in revenues.

Is it Possible to Reduce College Costs?

The Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education recently released several studies. One of them, written by Robert C. Dickeson, deals with perhaps the most frequently discussed college topic of all – does it have to cost so much?

Higher education is very labor-intensive, so if you want to find ways to lower costs, labor is the first place to look.

Dickeson points to tenure as being one reason why labor costs are higher than they need to be. The decision to grant tenure, he notes, carries with it a price tag that often exceeds $1 million. Its effect is to reduce institutional flexibility in two ways. First, if student interest in a field declines, the school can’t readily adjust; it’s stuck with a tenured professor even if students aren’t enrolling in his courses any more. Second, a tenured professor who is no longer effective – someone who is just coasting along, putting forth a minimal effort for his students – is hard to remove. Although tenure is not an absolute job guarantee, trying to remove a professor with tenure is a costly, time-consuming task that many administrators don’t want to try.

What should we do about college accreditation?

College accreditation is a little-understood aspect of our system of higher education. Most people don’t know how it operates, but believe that accreditation is a guarantee of reasonably good educational quality.

Sadly, that is far from the truth. A college or university can be accredited and yet offer pathetically weak academic programs. A recent report issued by the U.S. Department of Labor tears into the accreditation system with surprising frankness.

In “The Need for Accreditation Reform,” Robert C. Dickeson begins by explaining that “The standards for accreditation…are based on an institution’s self-study of the extent to which the institution feels it has met its own purposes.” Since college and university mission statements are never couched in precise language about educational results, that means that accrediting bodies don’t focus on questions pertaining to the central point of college life (what do students learn?) but rather on peripheral matters.

Commission publishes

The Commission on the Future of Higher Education reconvened today in Indianapolis hosting a two-day meeting. It is the fourth such meeting since Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings organized the group to examine higher education issues in America today. This week’s meeting focuses on affordability and accreditation.

As a prelude to various meetings, the Commission has released several “Issue Papers” that discuss different topics that have come before the board. It is believed that the “Issue Papers” will help the Commission in their work and ultimate policy recommendation, which could come later this year.

Should the American Bar Association accredit law schools?

On March 8, the National Association of Scholars (NAS) issued a public statement calling on the U.S. Department of Education to oppose renewal of recognition of the American Bar Association (ABA) as the accrediting body for legal education. What is at stake is this: only ABA-accredited schools can currently accept federal student aid money. A law school that doesn’t obtain or loses ABA accreditation can continue to operate – and some do – but they are restricted to students who don’t depend on federal grants and loans to help pay for their expenses.

Obviously, the law as it now stands gives the ABA enormous influence over law schools. Since many of them would have a much smaller student body if they lost the students who need federal aid, they are as obedient as trained poodles to the whims of the ABA’s accrediting council. But so what?

The NAS press release explains why they oppose continuation of the ABA as the gatekeeper for access to federal dollars. Recently, the ABA has proposed new accrediting standards that would compel law schools to adopt “diversity” policies having nothing to do with educational excellence and which would sink law schools further into the morass of social engineering. “Unless the ABA eliminates all requirements of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity from its accrediting standards,” continuing to give it power to declare law schools acceptable or not is, the NAS argues, “inappropriate.”

Campus events should promote debate, not anger

On the afternoon of Friday, March 3, an act of terrorism at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill left the university community in disbelief. Why would a former student would ram an SUV into a group of students?

Mohammad Reza Taheri-azar, 22, an Iranian native who graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill last December, rented a Jeep Cherokee Laredo and launched his attack on a student assembly area known as “The Pit.” Nine people were injured in Taheri-azar’s rampage. He appeared in Orange County District Court on Monday where he was arraigned on 18 charges, including nine counts of attempted murder.

Given that Chapel Hill is a university that prides itself on its welcoming and inclusive environment for students, the question is why Taheri-azar would attempt to kill some of his former classmates. The Associated Press reported that Taheri-azar “allegedly made statements that he acted to avenge the American treatment of Muslims.” He also told a 911 dispatcher that “the reason is to punish the government of the United States for their actions around the world.” Comments he made to police detectives and court officials indicate that Taheri-azar thought he would become a hero in the radical Islam community for injuring and attempting to kill college students.

Controversy surrounds DTH cartoon

CHAPEL HILL – For the second time this school year, The Daily Tar Heel, UNC-Chapel Hill’s student newspaper, is in the middle of a firestorm over content in its publication. This time the criticism comes from UNC-Chapel Hill administrators.

On Thursday, the student newspaper published a controversial cartoon of Muhammad – the founder of the Islam – showing him in between two windows. In the first window – one showing Danish flags – Muhammad is quoted as saying “They may get me from my bad side.” The second window – which shows a scene following a terrorist incident – he says “… but they show me from my worst.” Philip McFee, an UNC-Chapel Hill student, drew the cartoon.

Tar Heels Turn it Green With Inefficient Solar Power Program

Morrison Residence Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill was closed in the spring of 2005 for renovation. When it reopens in the fall of 2007, not only will students’ accommodations be nicer, but solar panels will be used to heat the building’s water.

While many campus activists and administrators are excited about the project, the solar heating system is financially inefficient.

The new Morrison Hall will have about 200 solar panels placed on the roof and their energy will heat about 60 percent of the building’s hot water. From that, a saving of $11,275 annually is projected.

The solar hot water system is funded by a $137,455 grant from the state legislature, $184,000 from student fees, and $125,000 from University housing and residential education funds. The project was originally anticipated to cost $309,000, but estimates are now as high as $446,000.